As we all learned in driver’s ed, operating a motor vehicle is not a right, like voting or publicly speaking your mind. Driving is a privilege. And that privilege is earned by mature, sober, careful behavior and an active concern for the safety of not only yourself, but your passengers, other drivers and their passengers, and pedestrians.
The State Assembly passed a bill last month — A.6657 — that would require back-seat passengers to buckle their seat belts. The bill is now in the Senate Rules Committee. We support it, and hope the Senate takes it up quickly when the Legislature begins its session. There is already a state law that requires drivers and front-seat passengers who are 16 and older to wear seat belts. Making rear-seat passengers also buckle up makes good sense to us. We urge you to contact your state senator and ask him to vote the bill out of Rules and onto the floor, and to support it.
Roadways are dangerous places. Speed limits are mostly ignored. Too many drivers endanger themselves, their passengers and the occupants of other vehicles by texting, dialing, using apps and doing other distracting activities. Many young drivers act like young people do when they’re not driving, incautiously testing their skills and daringly pushing limits. Mature drivers, with their years of experience, often think they can operate their vehicles on virtual autopilot while chatting on cell phones, checking the weather on an app, listening to Garmin give directions — and focusing least on their most important task: driving carefully.
With all that going on, a minimum responsibility all drivers have is to protect their passengers by making them buckle their seat belts. And 28 states and the District of Columbia now require rear-seat passengers to buckle up.
Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that lap/shoulder seat belts, when used properly, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat occupants by 45 percent, and reduce the risk of moderate to critical injury by 60 percent. What’s effective for front-seat passengers will surely be protective of those in the back seat as well.
The American Automobile Association estimates that 33,000 people are killed in motor vehicle crashes each year. And according to the NHTSA, car crashes are the leading cause of death for children age 4 and for those of every age from 11 through 27 in the U.S. Seat belts are the single most effective means of reducing the risk of death in a crash, having saved more than 250,000 lives since 1975 on our roads — more than 12,700 in 2009 alone, AAA says.
We encourage you to contact your state senator and tell him to vote for the bill.